Q. I work in a hospital and my husband works in an airport. For years, we’ve had to work night shifts a few times a month. I was OK with that at first, but as I get older (I’m 53), I find it harder to take. My husband copes better. Our jobs aren’t going to change, and we can’t risk losing them. What will help?
— Loise, Atlantau
A. We hear your strain. Like you, we’ve both worked many nights in hospitals. As more and more places stay open 24/7, night work is an economic fact of life for many people.
You and your husband do what’s called rotating shift work. Instead of permanently working nights —which has its own problems, but at least has a steady pattern — you’re occasionally pulling all-nighters, then trying to go back to your regular schedule without missing a beat. Not easy. Your body doesn’t like having its sleep and wake clock ignored.
Here’s the headline for you: Women have more trouble with this than men. It’s well known that steady night workers are more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes and obesity, but new research strongly indicates both also are true for women who work even a few rotating night shifts. That’s you. Just three nights a month ups your risk of type 2 diabetes some. Do that for 10 years (which it sounds like you have), and the risk jumps 40 percent, versus women who do little/no shift work. Women who do rotating shifts are also more likely to smoke, much more likely to get injured on the job (sleepiness does that) and are prone to stomach aches and irritable bowel syndrome.
Why? Canadian researchers suspect that because women often handle more childcare and household chores, they have a harder time with fluctuating sleep schedules.
Probably the most important goals for you (and your husband) are to get seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep each day, no matter what, and to exercise every day, even if you’re beat. Both are critical for your health, and both help keep your energy up and weight down.
Q. My dad doesn’t drink, including wine, so he drinks grape juice for his heart. After hearing about arsenic in juice, is that smart? What are safe brands?
— Armstrong, via email
A. While one of us (Dr. Oz) broke the arsenic-in-apple-juice story on TV last fall, grape juice was just added to the worry list by Consumer Reports. One frustrating thing for CR’s investigators was that there weren’t any patterns for juices with disturbing levels of arsenic (lead, too). Their words: “Our findings … can’t be used to draw general conclusions about arsenic or lead in any particular brand.” There’s not an official limit for either toxin in juice, though the Food and Drug Administration is working on this.
Meanwhile, tell your dad to drink no more than 12 ounces of grape juice a day, spread out so he gets no more than 4 grams of sugar an hour to avoid blood sugar spikes. That’s tricky, since grape juice averages 4 grams of sugar per ounce. Diluting it with sparkling water helps.
Here’s the kicker: Grape juice isn’t doing his heart much good. It’s primarily the alcohol in wine that is heart protective. For drinkers, one 5-ounce glass a day is best. For him, we’d say eat grapes. Cup for cup, the fruit has a third fewer calories and sugar, and lots more vitamins than the juice.
The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” For more information, go to www.RealAge.com.
Sound sleep for shift workers
The hardest part of shift work can be falling asleep at dawn. Some tips:
- Avoid caffeine in the second half of your shift.
- If it’s bright outside when you head home, wear dark sunglasses door to door. (Sunlight activates your internal “wake up” clock.)
- When you get home, have at most a light snack, so digestion won’t keep you awake.
- Relax a bit (avoid electronics), then go to bed and get a good day’s sleep.